Monday, December 16, 2013

Mary Barra and the New General Motors

by Rosabeth Moss Kanter | December 10, 2013

It is now official. Girls like cars. And car companies know how to be driven by women.

The appointment of Mary Barra as CEO-to-be of General Motors is a signal to car-lovers everywhere that the company is serious about its products and vehicle innovation. An engineer with a diemaker father who worked in a Pontiac plant, Barra is a 33-year company veteran. In her current job as executive vice president of global product development, she is responsible for the lineup of the future and the components that will make cars greener, safer, more user-friendly. The centrality of innovation to the future — electric cars, hybrids, self-driving cars, and beyond — makes her experience pivotal. This is a new GM.

Barra began her career at the old GM as a young student engineer. Around the same time, I first visited GM executive floors and factory floors throughout Michigan as a young professor and consultant. My book Men and Women of the Corporation, which looked inside an anonymous industrial corporation (not GM) had recently been published, and I was in demand to explain to executives why their corporate structures and cultures set some people on a path to success (generally men who resembled the other men in power) and systematically ignored others equally talented.

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